After talking for months about running for higher office, Tito Muñoz of Prince William County officially announced Thursday that he will campaign for Virginia Senate.

Muñoz, also known as “Tito the builder,” was surrounded by a few dozen supporters and former governor and U.S. senator George Allen, who endorsed Muñoz for the 36th district seat now held by longtime Democratic Senator Linda “Toddy” Puller.

“Tito is such an inspiration to many,” Allen said. “He has the right philosophy and the right principles. The added [bonus] that is so great is that he does everything with such enthusiasm…and he will attract the independent voters.”

An owner of a construction company, Muñoz made his announcement next to a dump truck and other equipment in the parking lot of Marumsco Plaza in Woodbridge. People at the gathering wore yellow construction hats and waved American flags for the Colombian-born candidate who became an American citizen in 2008.

“I was born in Colombia, but I was made in the U.S.A.,” Muñoz, 50, said. “I’ve talked to hundreds across the state, and after hearing their concerns, I made my decision to run. …I am not afraid to speak up and say the country is going in the wrong direction.”

Muñoz said he will focus on job creation, economic expansion and energy independence. Muñoz said he also supports tax cuts for businesses.

Muñoz briefly took the spotlight during the 2008 presidential campaign when he appeared onstage with former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, the GOP vice presidential nominee, and gained the nickname Tito the Builder. He is also a conservative Latino voice on local radio.

Allen said he got to know Muñoz by reading about him in the paper after the Palin rally. Allen is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in 2012. A Washington Post poll last month shows he remains popular even as some of his GOP opponents say he is not conservative enough.

Muñoz will face Jeff Frederick, the ousted leader of the Republican Party of Virginia, in the Aug. 23 GOP primary. The former state delegate said he wants to get back to Richmond to promote job creation and “common sense” solutions to transportation problems that plague the region.

Referring to Allen’s endorsement of Muñoz, Frederick said: “I’m not running to please the political establishment, I’m running to change politics as usual in Virginia. The people of the Commonwealth are looking for an independent voice who is not beholden to any political class or special interests. I will always put people above politics. It is unfortunate that others in this race have decided to stand with some of the very career politicians that got us into the mess we’re in, with bigger government, massive spending, and skyrocketing debt.”

Puller, who is seeing reelection, said she doesn’t know Muñoz but worked with Frederick when he was in the House of Delegates.

“I think I should be able to win and continue to serve the people well,” Puller said. “We are a very fiscally prudent state and have been named a number of times the best-managed state in the country. I am very proud of what Virginia has done.”

Staff writer Anita Kumar contributed to this report.